Dick Wagner remembered for passionate pursuit of life planning

Planner encouraged generations of advisers to focus on the person, not their investments

Mar 30, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

By Liz Skinner

Richard B. "Dick" Wagner, an attorney turned financial adviser who helped birth the life planning movement, died Tuesday after spending three decades pushing advisers to worry less about asset gathering and more about showing people how to use their money to support rich lives.

Advisers who knew Mr. Wagner said he was passionate about making financial planning a profession, not just an occupation, and they commended his profound contributions to the academic side of the advice business.

"No one had such an impact on the intellectual dimension of financial planning as Dick," said Dave Yeske, managing director of Yeske Buie. "He was a giant."

Mr. Wagner, who was 68, died after a fall earlier this week near his home in Denver and is survived by his wife, son, daughter and grandson.

Dick Wagner
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Dick Wagner

He touched the lives of thousands of advisers through his industry writings and speeches, and regularly reached out to informally mentor younger advisers and encourage them to become leaders of the industry.

Ed Gjertsen II, vice president of Mack Investment Securities and last year's chairman of the Financial Planning Association, said he shared a hotel room with Mr. Wagner at a conference in 2013 when there was a rooming snafu.

"He provided me the encouragement to run as a national leader and spent hours helping me formulate my thoughts," Mr. Gjertsen said.

Mr. Wagner also inspired his own children to join and be active in the financial planning community. Jacob Wagner is a digital marketer who works with financial planners and Natalie Wagner-Willis runs her own financial wellness firm, Vital Financials.

Among his vast industry accomplishments, Mr. Wagner first introduced the idea of focusing on a client's life, rather than his or her investment needs, in a paper 27 years ago. At the time, the financial advice business was just emerging and focused mostly on asset allocation.

"The essence of financial planning is not finding a product to best fit the client's needs. The essence is to provide answers and services within the context of the client's own special situation," he wrote in the January 1990 Journal of Financial Planning.

Four years later, as president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, Mr. Wagner and George Kinder, another monumental figure in holistic planning, delivered a talk describing the softer side of planning at a national industry conference.

Mr. Kinder said in a 2004 interview with InvestmentNews that they gave the talk three times and each time it attracted more people, until the last time when "you couldn't get into the room."

In 1994, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kinder co-founded the Nazrudin Project, a financial planning think tank dedicated to exploring the human side of money.

Mr. Wagner was still working to advance the profession, having written less than a year ago a new book, "Financial Planning 3.0," and he was scheduled to present at the Financial Planning Association Retreat conference next month.

Michael Kitces, a partner at Pinnacle Advisory Group, said in an email that the ideas Mr. Wagner presented in his most recent book ensure "his vision will live on and influence future generations of leaders."

Andrew Sivertsen, a young partner at The Planning Center, said Mr. Wagner attended several annual gatherings of the FPA's NexGen advisers in recent years, and was always an inspiration to new planners.

He would challenge conventional thinking "and remind us that just because it's been done that way for years doesn't mean it's the right way," he said.

Mr. Wagner's death creates a void for the profession, Mr. Sivertsen said.

"There's going to be a huge gap for finding a way to continue moving forward with a lot of the movements he began," he said.

Mr. Wagner was an adviser with Sharkey, Howes, Wagner & Javer until 2000, when he left to create WorthLiving, where he focused on writing, speaking and working with other advisers on the relationship between people and money.

"Advisers who aren't doing life planning are leaving a lot of stuff undone that people are interested in doing with their financial adviser," Mr. Wagner said in a 2013 interview with InvestmentNews.

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